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Resolving intercontinental pollution plumes in global models of atmospheric...

Rastigejev, Y., R. Park, M. P. Brenner, and D. Jacob (2010), Resolving intercontinental pollution plumes in global models of atmospheric transport, J. Geophys. Res., 115, D02302, doi:10.1029/2009JD012568.

Synoptic-scale pollution plumes in the free troposphere can preserve their identity as well-defined structures for a week or more while traveling around the globe. Eulerian chemical transport models (CTMs) have difficulty reproducing these layered structures due to numerical plume dissipation. We show that this dissipation is much faster than would be expected from the order of the advection scheme because of interaction between numerical diffusion and the nonuniformity of the atmospheric flow. The nonuniform flow stretches out the plume, enhancing the effect of numerical diffusion. For sufficiently strong stretching, the numerical decay of the plume is independent of the model grid resolution and is set instead by the flow Lyapunov exponent l. In this regime, conventional numerical methods are not convergent: upon increasing grid resolution, the plume still decays with the same decay rate. The critical plume size below which the numerical scheme does not converge is set by the geometric mean of the grid spacing and the characteristic length scale l = v/l over which the flow varies, where v is the wind speed. Above this critical plume size the numerically induced decay rate of the plume scales like the square root of the grid spacing. Application to an intercontinental pollution plume in a global CTM with realistic atmospheric flow shows that proper simulation of such a plume would require an impractical increase in grid resolution. Novel methods such as adaptive grids or embedded Lagrangian plumes are needed.

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Research Program: 
Atmospheric Composition Modeling and Analysis Program (ACMAP)